Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Binns, Henry Bryan (1873–1923)
Author:
Reagan, Katherine
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

A minor English poet and biographer, Henry Bryan Binns was the author of A Life of Walt Whitman (1905) and Walt Whitman and His Poetry (1915). Binns's life of Whitman, the first major biographical work to appear after the poet's death, is of particular interest for having been the first to print one of the great Whitman myths: that Whitman fathered an illegitimate child during a visit to New Orleans in 1848. In his biography, Binns claims that Whitman met and fell in love with a highborn Southern woman whose family, probably due to class prejudice, prevented the marriage and refused to recognize Whitman's paternity. Despite careful research by many subsequent biographers, however, no absolute proof of the affair, or its issue, has ever been found. Binns appears to have based his conjectures on hearsay and a too literal interpretation of certain passages of Whitman's correspondence and poetry. Lack of evidence, however, did not stop scores of writers from repeating the fantastic story, which has persisted in the literature until recent times. Published biographical information on Binns is scant. Born in Ulverston, Lancashire, in 1873, he produced works on a variety of topics between 1902 and 1922. Notable among these is a Lincoln biography, Abraham Lincoln (1907), and (sometimes publishing under the pseudonym Richard Askham) several books of poetry.

Bibliography

Binns, Henry Bryan. A Life of Walt Whitman. London: Methuen, 1905.

———. Walt Whitman and His Poetry. London: Harrap, 1915.

Loving, Jerome. "The Binns Biography." Walt Whitman: The Centennial Essays. Ed. Ed Folsom. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1994. 10–18.


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